My K-Beauty Skincare Essentials by watereverysunday
Model Image: Go Yoon-Jung, Korean Actress
Ok. My K-beauty obsessions still continue after 5 years since the last time I blogged about in 2017. It still has an innovative mind, quality ingredients at affordable prices, not to mention the unstopping newness that never let you bored. I have to admit that apparently 80% of my skincare products are K-Beauty items. It feels like K-Beauty seems to be part of your day norms like K-drama and K-pops. Read more to see what has changed since and what made my list!
Regardless of time, I always focus on taking care of my skin first. Makeup trends can come and go but your base stays the same except for time, occasional wounds and aging.
Long story short, the following are the new compilation of my K-beauty skincare essentials of today. This blog covers skincare essentials for my daily routine, not targeted products other than happened to be "tried" products.
*We are not affiliated with or paid by any company/brands/website/products featured in this blog post other than our own, especially Amazon or K-Expo.
There is nothing that can replace Cetaphil gentle skin cleaner for me but giving a try to a new thing never hurts, especially K-beauty. I am not a foaming cleanser person as the soapy foams irritate and trigger my allergy but I had tried some egg white cleanser in the past for fun which is known to brighten your face and wash away black heads. The results? Not life changing, so that's why I'm still living with oil cleansers for removing makeup and unfortunately, I have not found great K-beauty oil cleansers that can replace Ordinary squalene cleansers. Yet, I found the following and gave it a try.
I've relatively recently found this gel cleanser. Gel cleanser seems to be a new thing in town, not to mention being Vegan. It is a bit hard to carry cetaphil cleaner when traveling and this gentle vegan product served during my traveling time. This product is simply developed for a need of products by the founder Jun Yong Song who suffered from acne prone skin. A skin-care product based on their firm belief that good and clean ingredients are fundamental in the wellbeing of our skin similar to consuming healthy food for a balanced diet. I agree with that.
My skin is not acne prone but as a teen, I did suffer severe T-zone breakouts as well therefore, understanding the need of acne specialized products are basically universal. I also believe that mildness is the key philosophy here for troubled skin because harsh cleansing with powerful chemicals doesn't heal skin or help the situation. Philosophically, patience and time heals.
A drop of gel with water mix creates buildable mild lather and cleanses away excess oil and sebum that are the culprit of acne skins. Less rinsing required compared to other big foaming cleansers and slight squeaky texture with moderate glycerin scent feels rather functional than daily comfort cleanser.
I solidly believe in skin toners and it has always been part of my skincare routine. After washing, skin toners remove unresolved impurities, calm any harshness from the cleansing and rebalancing pH of the skin to prepare for the next step and better product absorption.
Love this product so much. This product line is developed by a Eastern/korean medicinal clinic in South Korea which believes that health is coming from within rather than skin deep. Besides doctor's offices and hospitals, Koreans regularly visit Eastern medicine clinics based on traditional Chinese and Korean medicinal practices such as acupuncture and health tonics. Eastern medicinal practices are based on meridian and yin yang theories which believe that the human body is a small universe and part of nature's phenomenon, and our body embodies paths of Qi's movement. Accordingly to Chinese philosophy Qi makes up and binds all things in the universe. Imagine blood circulations. When Qi's movement is interrupted in our body and off-balanced, health issues manifest. This is why the oriental doctors feel patient's wrist pulse to diagnose and use acupuncture and herbal medicines methods to treat.
I picked up this toner with a curiosity based on Eastern clinic hype and the great price point. But, I was so glad to have found this toner. Pyongyang Yul's brand philosophy is quite minimalist. "By emptying, fill the beauty." Only use minimum ingredients that you need. No scent, not watery but light textured, this clear dewy essence drops really set you up with just the right amount of moisture. Instead of using purified water, this toner contains concentrated Astragalus Root Water which is known to deeply moisturize the skin. You wonder what it does but with the generous product amount that you can literally splash on and try a DIY facial mask with this essence, even then the bottle still almost lasts forever and you are set for months. Great for sensitive skins. This was one of the K- Beauty products that once I had it, I could never go back.
T’else Kombucha Essence Skin Toner, $34.00 atopalm.com
I came across this toner while I was shopping for my hand eczema at atopharm.com. Kombucha fermented ingredient is also an attraction as Kombucha tea is one of my favorite probiotic health drinks. So why not for skin? Green Tea toners are pretty popular with antioxidant properties but giving your skin some probiotic treatment definitely strengthens you skin like your gut. Well, I was so right. This toner is slightly oily with subtle tea scent and after applying, my skin is calm, glowing and moisturized with a little taut resilient texture like a good morning wake-up. This toner has some serum quality to it but in a liquid form.
To be honest, serum is a "to be, or not to be" debatable product. In other words, sometimes it is skippable and sometimes it is not at your discretion. Time to time I skip serums as I don't want to coat my face with layers of products or plainly confused. Because you wonder - a pile of products would be really good for my skin? I need to try this new product, where do I add it in my routine?
I think serum steps could be used for targeted products like wrinkles, breakouts, extra oompahs and other skin troubles. Otherwise, where do you apply your doctor prescribed retinol or acne ointment? That said, choose your serums wisely and apply by need or with purpose.
Huxley Secret of Sahara Oil like Essence 1.01 fl. oz. $24 amazon.com
Huxley Secret of Sahara Mask Oil and Extract Mask, $21 amazon.com
Honestly I do not remember how I found this but, I was looking for a face oil that can replace Japanese Tsubaki oil that I've been using. Because I wanted to use less product and also wondered if using both face oil & serum would be wise for my skin since it is basically like mixing oil and water. For that, this essence was just perfect because it is an oil-like essence which means a hybrid form of face oil and serum. And this oil-serum has antioxidant-rich prickly pear desert cactus oil smelling fantastic. It is quickly absorbed into the skin but I do have to admit that it has some oily coat that lingered on your skin longer than other serums.
Another thing I really love about this serum is the fresh floral scent. It is literally like you are smelling real flowers. That said, I loved to use this serum during the summer. It makes my morning much flowery, light and beautiful and I can skip my face lotion/cream right over to sunscreen and makeup, or use this as my final routine for the night like going to bed with flowers. That said some people might not like this because of the distinctive floral scent. It does make my foundation a bit sliding around so give some time to be absorbed before makeups.
Also really love the mask version. It has an interesting packaging that I've never seen. You need to roll it to pop open the pathway to freshly mix serum and oil before applying. For the first time in my life having seen this type of packaging, there was a learning curve which was kind of cute. The amount of the leftover oil-serum is sufficient enough for me to use over a couple of days.
CENIGIA Concentrate Wild Ginseng Ampule, $29 uniquemi.com
I was at K-Beauty Expo back in September, 2022 in NYC with a last minute registration without knowing anything much about the event. I've visited a handful of great new products booths. There were about 100+ not only K-beauty but food & other new technologies - both hard and software.
Introduced by Uniquemi's CEO, Kawak Hee Ok, herself, Cenigia concentrate was one of the brand's leading products and this product line directly reflects the company's main philosophy - Oriental Naturalism. Product made with high quality and natural ingredients using patented natural fermentation technology, organically expressed as "100 days of waiting" - love this! The company has their own plant garden and fermentation lab in Jeju Island.
Cenigia concentrate ampule contains natural ceramide and high quality active ingredient, Ximenynic acid imported from Germany. Ximenynic acid is extracted from sandal trees, it is rich in fatty acid with known anti-aging properties. It helps the buoyancy and structure of the skin cells to add moisture and elasticity to the skin. This serum also contains 7 peptides complex for skin collagen production and wild ginseng and Cica (Centella asiatica) extracts from Korean Jeju Island. Well, I have to say I've never seen so many super ingredients in one product and also in concentrated form. I was given a full sample to try since this product is currently not available in the US.
There is a snail serum-like texture but lighter and this product has a really lovely floral scent rather than ginseng which I expected from the ingredient list. Absorbs lovely on skin with a velvety finish and there was no skin breakout on introducing this to my routine. The most benefit I feel with this serum was the skin glossiness and elasticity during the course of 1-2 months using it. My skin looks translucent with my dark spots lighter and the skin surface feels stronger. Hope to see this product sold in the US soon.
MOISTURIZER & CREAM
Not much more to say. Everyone needs (I insist, must) to use a moisturizer lotion or cream everyday as a minimum skincare routine after cleansing and before heading outside.
A'PIEU Madecassoside Skin Cream 1.69 fl oz (50ml), $15 amazon.com
I found this product about 3 years ago on amazon with great reviews. The price was also unbelievably affordable under $10 back then but now it has been up a little. This functional cream simply works for your occasional breakouts and just for everyday use. I have given this cream out a lot as gifts whenever I could because number 1, it works, number 2, it is sooo affordable. Some gave me some faces of "why?" but once they used it, they knew why. It is just a no brainer everyday and all around cream, period. Also so portable for traveling and handy in your purse. It has Madecassoside, the main active ingredient of the super popular plant, Centella Asiatica. It is great for sensitive skin, skin repair & strengthening and brightening. Are you convinced yet? Love the packaging, just like medicinal ointment but only retro cuter. This is a great day cream but also great at night as it treats that occasional breakouts while you are sleeping. Basically it works day and night.
KAHI WRINKLE BOUNCE MULTI BALM, $35.00, kahicosmetics.com
Are you a K-drama lover? This product was literally on every Korean drama this year as a PPL (product placement) product in the form of indirect ad. In the drama scenes, the drama characters were shown using this balm while being ready for a date, or when a friend gave the main character a makeover. However literally prior to that, a friend of mine visiting from South Korea last year brought this balm to me as a gift, and told me how hyped this product was over there at the moment. I haven't used it for a while, then started to notice from watching K-dramas and gave it a try.
In terms of skincare category, I'm unsure where this product really belongs but this can be used as an on-the-go-stick balm for whenever. It is basically a multi beauty balm that you can use everywhere or whenever you feel like, even on your hair & elbows!
How functional or practical is this product? This is a multi-balm so that's the answer. Let's look at the the active ingredients which are already pretty hyped in the category: Jeju Fermented Oil, ok; three types of Salmon complex - rich omega-3 and skin barrier repairing quality; Filmexel, a second skin biopolymer that work as natural film-foaming and preservatives which makes this stick-on-the-go property naturally possible, not to mention its skin protective, wrinkle smoothing anti-wrinkle properties. In the end, this balm has all the known wrinkle fighting ingredients that are slathering all over the face worthy by those drama characters.
I used it when I forgot my moisturizer, lip balm, eye cream then glided it over my neck, under eyes, forehead creases. So far no breakouts. I like it because you believe in this pink case(?) and it is quite pretty to carry around. Can you live without it? Yes, but if you have, it is handy.
Sulwhasoo Overnight Vitalizing Mask $54, sulwhasoo.com
I was introduced to this product while trying a mask gift set. The gift set has mini sized 5 mask products from sulwhasoo. All of them I loved, but this one particularly stood out as overnight mask which is basically a sleep mask with premium oriental herbal ingredients. The following is the description from the product site:
"This luxurious Korean sleeping mask features Sulwhasoo's exclusive Nutritive RED Elixir™ formula, with jujube and pomegranate extracts that help strengthen the skin’s moisture barrier."
This is one of my favorite final skincare routine at night before heading over to bed. There is a slight Ginseng aroma and fine cream texture that reminded me of why this is a premium product. Price tag is on the high side but since this is a sleeping mask, you are not applying it like a mud mask and it almost works like a night cream so the tube lasts a long time. I tried a mini size and it even lasted for a couple of months. It is softly moisturizing and I woke up with a morning glow.
SUNSCREEN / BB CREAM
Over the years and over and over again, I found this category quite important and it strongly deserves its own category. As much as we love SUN, it is a bad boy for your skin. The realization was pretty visible during COVID lockdown. I never thought my dark spots would ever fade but it did during COVID time and I want to stay that way. How to do it? Apply sunscreen religiously and everyday.
It is particularly lovable if your skin moisturizer lotion/cream comes with SPF because sunscreen is a must in your day skincare routine and which also means if your favorite moisturizer does not have SPF, you need two separate products to apply. Sigh but… again. Apply sunscreen religiously and everyday.
A-pieu, PURE BLOCK NATURAL DAILY SUN CREAM $15, amazon.com
This sunscreen simply rocks! I was looking for some light sunscreen after my daily moisturizer and before makeup. Since I loved the A-pieu line, trying this sunscreen with great reviews didn't need much convincing. It is truly light with slight orange/citrus scent and has main ingredients like Aloe for soothing, Berry Blossom complex (6 flowers/fruits extract) to revitalize dull skin and watermelon extract for moisture. I also noticed improvement over my dark spots and skin brightness. Before this sunscreen, my past sunscreens did not perform as much as this one, so moving on was easy.. I get a little anxious when this sunscreen is running low. I feel quite protected when I go out wearing this product. You can also apply over dark spots during night as a mild dark spot treatment.
This is still one of my favorite BB creams of all time since their first water drop version in the past which is now discontinued. It is slightly pricey and has a bit of chalky finish color wise but considering the fact that it is a tinted BB cream/moisturizer with sunscreen, I would give a high mark for its performance in moisturizing, color/blemish coverage and high SPF protection. Especially I don't need foundation after this BB cream, which is a huge advantage. Still need makeup remover during cleansing.
Centella Air-Fit Sunscreen Plus, SPF50+ PA++++ $19, SKIN1004.com
I found this brand sometime in the beginning of 2022. Love the minimalist clean look/packaging of this brand. I have to say packaging does matter to me. Call me superficial but it should look good in my bathroom or in my purse. I tried their daily gel moisturizer but my first love ended there and went back to my old lover - A-pieu cream, see above. I guess gel is not my thing.
Then I found this tinted BB cream with SPF and this is a keeper. I would want my bare skin to breathe a little more like just wearing face lotion/cream with minimum coverage. For that, this product is just perfect. This is a mineral sunscreen in light air-whipped texture with super high 50+ SPF protection. No white cast! A non-nano physical sunscreen that blocks UV rays which mean small enough but bigger than 100 nanometers mineral powder so that won't penetrate skin and safe for human skin and environments, while simultaneously brightening the skin with popular MADAGASCAR Centella Asiatica Extract & Niacinamide. Apparently MADAGASCAR is the very first location where Centella Asiatica was found. I think that says something.
I believe there are no miracle products out there that can turn back time. Only simply delays. However, applying products to skin is just like eating food and sleeping. Imagine if you miss a meal/sleep, eat the wrong food or you don't shower after a sweaty workout. Skin is also first barrier of your body, protecting you from the everyday environment such as the harsh sun, free radicals & pollution that are just floating around the streets, not to mention plain dirt. So take care of yourself.
Then time and gravity are our enemy. Skin says. Sigh…enough already, right? As much as we would like to age gracefully, these two just don't stop and run faster than your product's skin absorption. My advice? Acceptance, not cheating. Because cheating almost comes back to haunt you more. Not sure what I am trying to say but don't try hard against nature or life. Gracefully accept and maybe enjoy the letting go part more. This does not mean giving up and stop taking care of. This means be graceful and just enjoy the moment, not the past.
NINE TAILS - Advanced Line Lift Serum, available on eBay
I found this product during the K-Beauty Expo as well, that I attended back in September this year. The scientist (could have been a sales person) behind it explained to me of its main ingredients and 3 month clinical trials. I kind of insisted that it would need a longer clinical trials to show its long term effect. He wasn't convinced. Anyways, the following is the description for the product from a site:
"Advanced Line Lift Serum is a facial serum that immediately lifts the face and makes it look young. It contains PDRN extracted from Salmon DNA, and Exosomes extracted from the 20s(?), as white-necked mushrooms, and Centella extracts."
PDRN (a proprietary and registered DNA derived drug) extracted from Salmon DNA is found to be very similar to human DNA which promises a better skin absorption, and also a popular ingredient that is known to strengthen skin barrier, being rich in omega-3. Exosomes are known cell communicators especially for all types of proteins and one of popular active ingredients in skin rejuvenation therapy due to its superior capability in increasing collagen production and skin elastin level. White-necked mushroom (aka snow mushroom) delivers moisture to the skin along with Centella extract which is just too popular to keep mentioning - it is just a supermodel ingredient at the moment. But another key ingredient in this filler is a novel dermal delivery system - natural spicules extracted from marine sponges. These needle-like spicules are known to be highly efficient in skin penetration for a potent delivery of the loaded nutrients deep into the skins. At the end of the day, you could have a great product but if you could not deliver, what's the use?
In addition, as for the name of the brand, nine tails comes from a nine-tailed fox, eastern folk tale telling creature with mystical abilities of living almost a thousand years and glamorizing humans with its haunting beauty. The real reason behind the brand name wasn't really known as the scientist was not able to confirm my belief at the K-Expo but it is to be commonly known to Koreans. There are many K-dramas with this nine tailed fox story.
It took me a while for me to open this product wondering if this product would be right for me. But one day I did. After a toner I applied over my neck to the tech-neck creases, over the forehead for constant frowns, under the eyes for dark circles and bags. Well I was quite surprised at the results, there was an immediate and subtle tingling sensation and tightness as the gel product was being absorbed then the texture at the applied creases appeared smoother, especially for the puffiness under eyes. After I applied a lotion over it, the smoothed creases remained the same but the results were not visibly dramatic. I would have to watch for another week or two to see more results as it claims the visible results after 1-2 weeks as per the packaging. When I washed my face in the morning, the applied crease area felt filled. Upon reading some reviews on the products or youtube videos (click to see), my results seemed milder compared to theirs, though.
VEGAN, TINT LIPSTICK
Koreans are quite into glossy skin and flower petal lips. I also picked up this sample of lip tint at the K-expo wondering how a Vegan lipstick would differ from the regular ones then, the term Vegan is a bit new genre in K-beauty therefore, wanted to find out how they translated this into K-beauty.
I have to say there was no difference in vegan and regular lip tint and it performs like any other good lip tint. This tint has a velvety matte finish but quite moisturizing for a matte tint. It created beautiful blurring flower petals lips. Simply put, for rose petal lips, skip the lip liner and use maybe your finger tops to blur. There had been a petal lips makeup trend around 2015-ish in a high shiny version (remember the juicy tubes and the likes?) which was doll pretty but quite smudgy and gluey - not so practical. This velvety tint updated with a matte version also claims to last all day but as we all know it is impossible because we eat and drink throughout the day. These petal lip makeups are easily seen in K-dramas with dewy skin.
Wow, that was a lot of writing. Hope this was enough and a good list for you to look and try out. Our preference and need do change by time and I can personally see it from what I needed 5 years ago or found interesting then is no longer made into this list whether those products are no longer around or ceased to help me.
P.S. At last, you can't talk about K-beauty without K-drama.
What is your favorite K-drama at the moment? I am sure the list goes on! I am currently a huge fan of Alchemy of Soul, the original Korean title translated as "shift of soul". A little bit of fantasy goes a long way for me. That said, I featured the main actress Go Yoon-Jung of Part 2 as this blog's cover spread. As much as I loved the part 1, part 2 is as exciting as the part 1. There was a little controversy over this drama regarding the main female characters switch from part 1 to part 2. As you can guess, body and soul change! I just wonder if you change your body and soul, can people still recognize you or are you the same person? Not to mention, the male leads equally pretty(?) as the female ones to swoon about.
But most of all, this show is really funny to watch besides the seriousness of the main story. There was no funny elements in the Game of Thrones but this drama has it because that's why K-dramas are fun to watch. Just imagine you have nothing to smile about during your day regardless of your main problems, how will you live?
None of K-beauty products are featured in this drama because it takes place in ancient times in a made-up world but fashion and makeups are quite interesting and entertaining as much as the story. I found modernized traditional customs, makeup and fashions are quite trending worthy.